July 24, 2020
As in seriously, there were scarcely any people out on the streets though all restrictions had been lifted. We considered ourselves so fortunate to have this rare moment to capture a Kyoto that hasn’t been this empty or quiet in more than 20 years…. ↩
This weekend happens a long 4-day weekend, but the circumstances are dramatically different from when we went last month, with 300+ cases daily washing over Tokyo and Japan clearly in the throes of a second, much larger wave. Yet, governmental incomptence via an ill-timed and much criticised bungled “Go Travel” Campaign (warning, terrible governmental PDF) has resulted in literal bus loads of tourists swarming the streets of Kyoto, packed shoulder to shoulder. Needless to say, this will not end well…. ↩
June 13, 2020
We have a lot of love for smaller formats such as M4/3 and APS-C for a great many reasons, not least of which are their much smaller travel-friendly sizes and the availablity of tiny fast wide primes (much thanks to Sigma and Pana-Leica) that make them much more useful for portraiture.
However, at the end of the day, when looking at the results out of a FF solution such as our Sony A7RIV + 85mm f/1.4 GM it’s clear there’s still a large gulf in performance between APS-C/M43 and FF for certain kinds of work and aesthetics.2
Packing a FF 3-lens portrait setup (A7R/A9 + 24mm, 50mm, 85mm f/1.4 lenses) used to be pretty incompatible with our 1-bag travel philosophy, but these days given that we’ve reduced our total 1-bag setup (including a 3-lens APS-C portrait setup) to less than 10kg and 22L, we’re able to make a 1-bag setup work with a FF 3-lens setup in a 30L-ish bag6, still very well within international carry-on limitations (though the weight starts to be an issue with intra-european carriers). ↩
Our arms were much more toned in those days…. ↩
The issue is that the packing doesn’t scale absolutely linearly - when you’re at 22l-ish, your travel bag can also double comfortably as your EDC daypack at your destination. When you jump up to 30L (to accommodate the extra space/weight taken by the FF setup) then the bag generally is a bit too big to work as an EDC daypack at the destination, so then you need to pack an extra portable daypack which also takes up extra space in the pack, yadda yadda.7 ↩
Okay no more footnotes inside of footnotes, we promise. ↩
May 26, 2020
Top line Summary
The Rofmia Shift Daypack v2 is a sleek minimalist Japanese 22L EDC urban-use daypack made of 5oz Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). Made by hand by Rofmia, a small Japanese cottage-manufacturer based in Gifu prefecture, the main draw of this bag is the sexy material choice for the body fabric, however the myriad of well-executed details ranging from magnetic fidlock buckles to YKK Aquaguard zippers and impeccable craftsmanship keeps the attention even after the choice of body material. The small size and mix of moderate small organizer sections and larger main area, coupled with high weather resistance makes for a flexible use urban EDC bag with a distinct, but understated minimalist flair and intriguing combination of high-tech and traditional design.
The main shortcomings of the bag resides in its smaller size, and friction of interactions that require two hands and intent to get in/out of and of course the eye-wateringly high price of 65,000 JPY + shipping. Made in limited quantities, the Rofmia Shift Daypack v2 will likely be a carefully considered purchase for most of us, but also one that is likely to find a place in many people’s list of “grail bags.”
Who is it for?
Lovers of dyneema, minimalists with deep pockets, urban techwear enthusiasts and other urban dwellers with relatively light daily hauling needs, an appreciation for high tech materials and a wallet to match. As mentioned above, and similar to other high end minimalist packs such as the Veilance Nomin pack, this could potentially be a grail bag for serious carry enthusiasts.
Who is not for?
Though made of dyneema, this bag probably will disappoint anyone looking to use it for hiking/moderate+ outdoor use as it’s simply not designed for that. Additionally, given its slighter size (on the smallish side of 22l), it makes a less-than-ideal choice for people who need to haul a lot of stuff on a daily basis or for one-bag travelers. Finally, for those on a tight budget or who aren’t willing to pay a (hefty) premium for design/material choice, there are countless other options out there which will give a much higher value for (far less) money.
We’ve had our eye on Rofmia for some time now, ever since they released their (now sold out) original line of Shift-series Dyneema packs. While we loved the lines and materials they were experimenting with, we ultimately didn’t pull the trigger at the time due to a few compromises that were difficult for us to accept at the (high) price point.
This changed recently with the release of the Shift Daypack v2. While keeping the same DCF construction and intriguing blend of traditional design and techwear minimalist asthetic, it features more organization, slightly cleaner lines, and better functionality (for our needs) than its predecessor - enough that we could finally justify the 65,000 JPY selling price.
We’ve had the pack in our possession for a couple of weeks now and had some opportunity to lightly test in around Tokyo, though obviously not as heavily as we would normally due to the overall lockdown from COVID-19.
As mentioned, the pack is made from an all-black 5.0oz DCF that feels quite robust. The material itself feels right around on par with the DCF 150 used in bags like the HMG Daybreak or Metro and fresh out of the box features much cleaner lines than either of those bags and holds its shape whilst empty - partially as a result of the construction which features some subtle folds and angling in parts of the bag. As we’ve used the bag the material has started to soften and develop a slight droop in some places, which is to be expected due to the nature of Dyneema .
The carefully considered choice of materials doesn’t stop with the body fabric either - the bag features YKK AquaGuard zippers, a nimble fidlock slide sternum strap buckle and strong double-walled mesh pockets on the outside which feel as good as anything Evergoods has ever put on their bags, as well as a slightly stretchier single walled mesh on the inside which feels better to our hand than the flimsier mesh found inside of many of Bellory’s higher end bags.
There’s clever details throughout as well - simple elastic strap keepers prevent dangling from the small, but pleasantly firm shoulder straps, a small piece of reinforcement sewn between the dual layers of the top of the external water bottle holders make it easy to utilize the pocket with a single hand, simple and small black zipper pulls feature a slight curve that makes them easier to grasp and finally the inside of the front slash pocket features a slanted internal holder to retain a mobile phone at an angle for easy insertion/withdrawal upon opening the pocket.
The bag features three zippered openings and 2 external water-bottle holder pockets1. The front slash pocket runs the vertical length of the front panel with a single zipper hidden by a subtle pleating (which, alongside the matching pleat on the other side give some subtle dimensionality to the front pocket. The main compartment has an interesting 3-zipper-pull opening which looks better than it actually operated (more on that in a moment). The back laptop compartment features a single 1-way zipper with no pleating (but like all the zippers, it is YKK AquaGuard) with a simple folded and sewn (for stiffness) grab handle at the top.
The inside of each compartments feature what we would regard as a pleasantly-moderate level of organization. Inside of the front zip panel there is a single angled pocket that is sized to hold most modern smartphones in a way that positions them for easy access when unzipping the bag - this is a nice touch compared to most bags which tend to avoid having any internal organization for front zip pockets.
Opening the main compartment (which zips all the way to the bottom and flaps open, clamshell-style) reveals two internal zipper pockets on the inside of the front flap - a smaller one at the top made of the same durable opaque mesh as the outside water bottle pockets and a somewhat larger one with a larger opening see-through mesh the bottom. This is a common organizational scheme found in many bags such as the GoRuck GR1/Heimplanet Monolith 22L and so forth, and it works well here. The remainder of the inside of the main compartment is devoid of organizational features unless one opts for the internal water bottle holder at order time, in which case that will be present.
Moving to the back laptop compartment, this is sized well to hold both a laptop and a few documents. Given the stretch and light padding of this area it is possible to fit both a laptop and a tablet in this space. Technically this area features a false bottom and can accommodate up to a 16” MacBook Pro, but there are some compromises, as will be discussed below. The top portion of this compartment has a shallow zippered internal compartment made of the same mesh as the outside pockets - this will just barely accommodate a MacBook charger and mouse due to the stretch of the materials.
Pulling back to look at the bag overall, it is clear to see that it falls on the smaller side of 22L - it worked for us as a daypack, but for larger sized individuals the bag could both not fit right and also potentially look awkward. The bag hews largely to the traditional “backpack” design from the overall silhouette to the way the shoulder strap attach tot he body, but also with some modernizing touches (other than the material) such as the slightly angled and upward sloped bottom panel that pushes the load closer to the wearer’s back when worn (albeit at the cost of being unable to stand upright on its own).
One final thing to note regarding the design is the very high level of execution and attention to detail in this bag (as we have come to expect from Japanese craftsmen) - it’s expensive, but you definitely see that reflected in both the materials and the beautiful hand-made construction of this bag.
Functionality in Use
With much travel and daily life relatively restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve only been able to test the Rofmia Shift Daypack v2 in a limited fashion for everyday life for a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, this has been enough to reveal some of the strengths and weakness of the bag in terms of functionality.
In terms of highlights when it comes to functionality, much of it comes from the material choice of DCF - the slight stiffness of the material means that it tends to hold its shape whilst empty without needing to resort to heavy sidewall padding or unnecessary construction - this makes it easy to hang the bag off of a table (with a HeroClip) with the front flap open and access the contents with relative ease - similarly when swinging the bag around on one shoulder, it’s relatively easy (once the bag is open) to load in/out a light shell or other items. And whilst the nature of dyneema means that some of this structure will “soften” overtime, based on other DCF bags we own even with fairly extensive use it will still likely retain enough structure to preserve these properties over time.
Similarly, the DCF material, coupled with the use of YKK Aquaguard zippers on the outside means the bag is highly water resistant - we had no problems walking in a mild Tokyo rainstorm with this bag and the contents did not get wet. On the other hand, the seams are not taped and the zippers lack zipper garages so during a heavy rainstorm or sustained downpour it is very likely water will ingress into the bag - this bag is (highly) “water resistant” but not “water proof”.
Other high points in terms of functionality come from the shoulder straps which we found to be firm and tight whilst not being uncomfortable - for the types of loads this bag should be used for they are more than sufficient and despite the lack of a more ergonomic shaping to the back panel (versus say, what Evergoods does with most of their bags), the bag tends to ride close and tight (but not necessarily “high”, though it also does not sag, which we like) to the body. Combined with the relatively small size, this makes it a very pleasant bag for navigating crowded urban environments.
The sternum strap is also a highlight - the snaps that hold it in place to the laddering are easily adjustable without coming undone unlike many bags that resort to “push through” type toggles that often can work their way out and risk losing a sternum strap, especially when unclipped and navigating crowds. (See again, Evergoods). The laddering on the shoulder straps is also simply but very well executed in our opinion - functional, minimal, sleek and not at all obnoxious (see: GoRuck). Finally, the vertically sliding magnetic Fidlock buckle for the sternum strap is a wonderful choice that is fun to snap/un-snap into place. We like the vertical opening/closing nature as opposed to the horizontal type of Fidlock buckles.
We also found the frame sheet of the bag to be a good balance between adding some moderate firmness and structure to the back panel (as well as moderate protection for and from the internal contents of the bag) whist not being overly stiff (GoRuck) or weirdly shaped/floppy (Bellroy Transit bag, Apex bag, etc.). It’s also easily accessible via a simple internal Velcro flap so one could probably swap it out if preferred.
In terms of accessibility and organization in practice, we liked that the main compartment opens up quite wide at maximum zipper extension, allowing loading more or less like a clamshell style bag, and the two internal pockets in the front flap are well sized to carry a fair amount of small items without overwhelming the inside flap or disrupting the overall structure of the bag/self-stiffness of the DCF material.
Finally, in terms of highlights, we liked the dual external water bottle pockets2 which were well constructed and easy to use due to the excellent double-mesh and internal flexible reinforcement around the opening.
The Rofmia Shift Daypack v2 also has a few shortcomings as well. Starting with the main material of the bag, it’s important to note that whilst the waterproof nature of DCF is generally a good thing, when it comes to the simple, flat back panel, this also means the bag will be extremely sweaty against the wearer’s back on any type of hot day. In keeping with the simple aesthetic, there is no contouring/mesh padding or “air channels” on the back3, but whereas most other types of materials will have at least some ability to absorb perspiration/humid air and thus provide some incremental amount of comfort on hot sweaty days, this is not the case with DCF - all the sweat and moisture will stay pressed up flat against the wearers back. An unavoidable compromise given the aesthetic and material choice, but still worthy of a (small) mention.
A much larger shortcoming of some of the design choices driven by the aesthetic results from the decision to use relatively small YKK AquaGuard zippers on the outside of the bag. Simply put, it is quite difficult to use this bag one-handed. The combination of small zippers with high friction means every time one wants to get something out from the bag, they need to awkwardly sling it from one shoulder and try to grab the various zippers with two hands (the lack any type of additional tab on the opposing side of a zipper as commonly found in other bags (Aer, Evergoods, etc.) for additional purchase makes this even harder, though again, an aesthetic decision) or more often than not, set the bag down on the ground and try to wrangle it from there.
And in truth, one will be setting this bag down a lot in everyday use - which is where the decision to use a sloped bottom (both for aesthetic and push the contents closer to the wearer’s back when worn) means the bag cannot stand up on its own. This means that when using the bag in and around the city, there will be a lot of setting it down awkwardly leaning against a counter propped up by your feet as you try to pay at a counter at a store, etc.
Besides requiring two hands to open, the slight nature of the zippers and the increased resistance of the AquaGuard tracks means that they also provide a lot of friction when opening and closing - the stiffness of the Dyneema material helps some, but there’s still a lot of binding and catching (especially around rounded corners) involved - the zippers will catch on the bag material and this means opening/closing always requires deliberate care and attention. The zippers also feel a bit fragile (though in reality they will probably hold up fine as long as not overly abused) and often fussy - contrast this to strong #10 YKK (non-AquaGuard) rack and coil type zippers in bags by companies like Evergoods and its evident the lack of “yank ability” negatively impacts the ease of everyday use in the Shift Daypack v24. We understand and appreciate the aesthetic requirements that drove the decision to use the chosen zippers, but also strongly believe that friction - especially when present in core/essential and oft-used functionalities - are one of the strongest contributors to poor overall user experience in any product or software. So it’s something that needs to be considered at this price point and for something that aims to be an EDC-use bag.
As previously mentioned, the bag also has what we consider an appropriately moderate amount of internal organization that for the most part works well, but still has a few key shortcomings. The first that we quickly noted was the lack of a tether/keeper for keys - depending on one’s load out, there’s no immediately obvious, area to easily store keys whilst still keeping them secure and relatively easily-accessible. We resorted to storing ours in the front zipper pocket, but the fact that this zipper opens all the way to the bottom without any “lip” means we always need to be careful that our keys do not fall out when we access this pocket. This is annoying enough that we’re considering modifying the bag to sew a small key tether into this pocket which would solve this problem and greatly improve the functionality, in our opinion.
Speaking of the front zipper pocket, while overall we appreciate the internal angled phone pocket in this area, we did notice that when the bag was set down (as one often must do in everyday life as mentioned above) or else slung around the shoulder, depending on the contents of the main compartment, the buckling/bending of this area means it’s actually quite difficult to slide a phone back into this area without again, using two hands. A minor annoyance.
Moving towards the back laptop pocket, we liked that there was a small internal pocket at the top of this compartment, ostensibly for a mouse / laptop charger, but in practice we found that this pocket was annoyingly shallow - there’s stretch to the mesh material which means it can accommodate a mouse and a moderately sized laptop charger (such as an Apple Macbook charger - PC users with massive power bricks will have to store them in the main compartment), but if the pocket had just a bit more depth/dimension/height it would be incredibly more useful - as it is, one needs to be extremely careful when putting things in/out of this pocket (especially when slung around the shoulder) to avoid spilling the other contents of the pocket. Keeping with a developing theme, actioning around this pocket needs to be deliberate and careful, which introduces friction in EDC use.
The laptop pocket additionally also technically has a false bottom, but in reality we found that given the softness of the back panel insert and lack of padding in the sidewalls/bottom of the bag, any inserted laptop will likely hit the ground with some force if the bag is set down without care (again, all actions with this bag require careful deliberation and care, introducing friction). This is less of a concern with smaller laptops (12” rMB, MacBook Air, 10.5” iPad Pro) and more of a concern with larger laptops (15”/16” Macbook Pros for sure).
When considering this bag, one of the points most likely to come up is the price point. It is undoubtedly expensive - as mentioned, at 65,000 JPY + shipping it is actually one of the most expensive bags in our (extensive) collection - actually out-pricing the overpriced Bellroy Apex, and coming dangerously close to the Veilance Nomin pack’s price point. It’s also considerably more expensive than other DCF bags we own, such as the HMG Daybreak or even the specialized mountaineering-oriented DCF-edition of the Millet Trilogy 30L.
So while it is clear that this bag is exceedingly expensive - beyond even the price points for most DCF bags - we must balance this against the fact that this is small-batch cottage industry product, literally handmade one at a time by a single Japanese craftsman. And there is a premium that comes with this - supporting small businesses and one man’s goal to realize and market his vision of how carry should be designed and executed.
Given the high degrees of design and functionality and the fact that this bag is eminently usable in EDC situations, we feel that if one can afford it, this bag is worthy of its price point. It’s undoubtedly a “grail” bag - to be considered potentially in the same league as the Veilance Nomin (albeit slightly less expensive) against which we believe it can hold its own, or the similarly-priced Bellroy Apex (against which we believe the Dayshift V2 is the superior bag for the money, especially in clarity of vision and refinement). For those who can swing it, we believe this will be a purchase they will be happy to not only keep in their collection but also use in their regular everyday lives with good results.
By this point we’ve mentioned a few other bags in passing, so it’s worthwhile to elaborate on a few other relatively similar packs that one might consider instead of the Rofmia Shift Daypack V2:
- Veilance Nomin Pack v2
- Price: $980 CAD (Veilance.com)
- Similarities: Another specialist “grail” pack made of unusual, high tech materials with a strong urban minimalist/techwear aesthetic, comparable levels of organization and coming in at a similarly eye-wateringly high price point.
- Pros: Slightly more robust, better laptop protection, larger capacity and superior water resistance versus the Shift Daypack v2.
- Cons: Lacks external water bottles and more crucially a sternum strap. Backpanel is significantly stiffer which makes for a hard board against the back when worn.
- Evergoods Civic Half-Zip 22
- Price: $198 USD (Evergoods.us)
- Similarities: Sleek black, minimalist techwear/urban aesthetic with very-similar dual external water bottle pockets.
- Pros: Superior durability, ergonomics and capacity versus the Shift Daypack V2 as well as being less than 1/3rd the price. Superior “crossover”/outdoor usability.
- Cons: Material choice of 500D high-tenacity nylon, whilst robust is less “exciting” than the DCF of the shift Daypack. Not waterproof and has inferior organization.
- Hyperlight Mountain Gear Daybreak
- Price: $195 USD (hyperlitemountaingear.com)
- Similarities: Created from a similar (though more robust feeling in our personal opinion) black DCF with similar (but slightly superior) waterproof zippers. Outdoorsy but still usable in urban environments with only closet dirtbags being in the know.
- Pros: Far superior capacity in practice (despite being theoretically smaller in specs) and external pocketing. Superior outdoor usability. Less than 1/3rd the price.
- Cons: Far less sleek and less refined in execution and design versus the Shift Daypack V2, inferior internal organization.
- Arcteryx Granville 16 Daypack
- Price: $219 USD (Arcteryx.com)
- Similarities: High tech materials, sleek minimalist techwear-styling, small tight compact design and pleasantly moderate levels of organisation.
- Pros: Less than 1/3rd the price, superior waterproofing (taped seams, tighter zippers), larger front compartment whilst still retaining side + top access and internal pass through. Availabe in different colourways.
- Cons: No external/internal water bottle carry. Smaller than even the Rofmia Daypack v2 with slighter shoulder straps. Doesn’t handle large laptops well (laptop compartment is too small) and lacks external laptop access.
So in conclusion - what do we think of this bag? Simply put, we really like it. It is a great looking bag that is exceedingly well executed in design, material choice and details. While there are some compromises and areas of friction in EDC usage, we still find the bag to be highly functional and very well balanced between the design, functionality and aesthetic considerations underlying its concept. The bag is expensive, but as mentioned above, it compares well to many of the other bags in this price range and its execution, design and material choice means it is well placed as a “grail” bag in any collection that is still imminently usable for actual everyday carry.
- Design: ★★★★☆
- Build + Materials: ★★★★☆
- Functionality: ★★★★☆
- Organisation: ★★★★☆
- Value: ★★☆☆☆
- Overall: ★★★★☆ (4/5 stars)
It is also possible to get the water bottle holder sewn on the inside and thus only have one pocket on the outside. ↩
Again, also has the option to have the water bottle pocket sewn inside, leaving you with just one external. ↩
Which to be fair, we don’t usually find to be effective at all. ↩
Also worth mentioning - the three zipper pulls on the main compartment seem like a good idea but the increase in functionality over having two zipper pulls is quite slight. Theoretically having three zips would permit you side-zip access to the bag from one side, whilst still having the other two zippers at the top to permit top opening clamshell access. But in reality, given that you really need two hands to operate the small, friction-filled zippers in reality you’ll probably just be setting it down and wrestling with it anyway, in which case two zippers would have done the same thing. ↩
May 20, 2020
Verdant lines below a stormy sky along a quiet Tokyo neighbourhood…
May 05, 2020
First impressions of the James Brand x Carryology Rover Capsule EDC…
- Set of three Everyday Carry (EDC) tools + a carrying pouch aimed at travelers (i.e. no knife blade)
- Limited edition collaboration between Carryology and James Brand
- Stylish design, appealing colourway and a (mostly) premium choice of materials
- Either moderately priced or else slightly overpriced at $275.00 USD, depending on the premium one places on design
- Actual tools vary in usability - you’re paying for design rather than maximum functionality
- Available on the James Brand site while supplies last.
The Rover Capsule Collection is a collaboration between knife and tool maker James Brand and the carry-focused website Carryology. It ostensibly aims to serve as an “Everyday Carry” (EDC) set of tools for frequent travelers designed - in their words - “the tools you need when you’re on the road, bouncing from tarmac to dirt tracks.”
The collection consists of three tools and a carrying case, and retails for $275.00 USD on the James Brand site while supplies last.
Who is it for?
First and foremost, travelers living in a country where scissors are reliably allowed on carry on luggage and who place a high value on design over functionality. People looking for an EDC solution that specifically doesn’t have a knife (either due to local laws, etc.) and also value design. People looking for a nice gift for others that fit into these categories.
Who is not for?
Anyone looking to travel internationally should either steer clear of this collection or be prepared to check it in (defying its raison d’etre) - outside the USA many countries don’t allow scissors on carry ons. Also, anyone intending to use any of the main tools more than once or twice a week will be much better served with a cheap multitool or even $1 screwdriver and pen in terms of functionality. Along the same lines, folks who don’t place a high price premium on design over function are likely to feel this collection is overpriced in terms of what it offers.
Skinth Solutions Carrying Pouch
The three tools in the collection slot into a custom-designed carrying pouch made by a company called Skinth Solutions. The idea is to have the collection together in a single place that can be moved easily from bag to bag (or pocket) as needed. The pouch is made of a 1000-D cordura nylon is quite similar to their “Parallel Pocket Panel” (P3), albeit slightly customized for the specific tools in the collection.
The pouch is a straightforward affair, featuring a single large hang/grab loop at the top, which is folded over and sewn in the back in such a way as to leave a small loop on either side through which a carabiner or piece of paracord can be fitted to give a few different carrying/securement options (although the loops are far too small to fit a belt through). The front of the pouch is devoid of decoration save for single hang tag featuring the James Brand, Carryology and Skinth logos.
Overall, there isn’t much to like or dislike about the pouch. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the colour scheme (and potentially material choice) seems incongruous with the rest of the collection - while the tools themselves are awash in smooth sleek lines, subtle modern grey, somber titanium, bright orange highlights and high-tech mixtures of matte and polished surfaces, the pouch itself seems much more… wanna-be tacticool-esque in its design and colors.
On the one hand, it’s hard to fault the choice of 1000D Cordura for a tool carrying case, but did it need to be black? 1 It just looks like the kind of thing you would expect to find carrying a well-used Leatherman strapped to the front of a Goruck bag (except for the lack of molle on the pouch) than than carrying a special edition set of overly-design edc tools. There’s definitely nothing wrong with the former (we own and use several different Leathermans and Gorucks) but it just doesn’t really match the vibe of the rest of the collection.
The other minor criticism of the the pouch is the lack of capacity to carry any other tools that are often found on in an EDC kit - a couple of obvious omissions that immediately came to light are a flashlight and either a small notebook or way to make fire. For the former we resorted to clipping our tiny olight SR1 baton to the back (ugly, but semi-workable) and had to give up on the latter two.
We understand that leaving additional open slots would have raised other issues for a pouch that is supposed to be custom-designed for this collection so we don’t consider this a major criticism but nonetheless it does lower the overall utility as a piece of EDC. (At the very least a mini-notebook slot on the back would have made a wonderful companion for the pen).
The Ellis Pocket Tool
The first tool in the collection is known as the “Ellis Pocket-tool.” Based on the existing James Brand Ellis pocket knife and made out of Sandvik 12C27 stainless steel with G10 scales in a primer gray colourway and a bright orange nylon lanyard, it’s probably the most controversial of the three tools in the set. What’s so controversial about it?
Well, for starters, it lacks a knife blade (hence the name “Pocket Tool”). Now this is stated up front as a design choice made to enable a “travelers EDC” - theoretically allowing this to be carried on to aircraft. However, the knife blade has been replaced with a small scissors, ostensibly so “you get 90% of the utility of a knife while being 100% ready to board a flight.” The challenge comes in that many, many countries do not allow travelers to bring scissors on airplanes, and even inside of the USA, one is always at the capricious whims of the TSA2. So that means that for any kind of international travel one will almost certainly be packing this kit into their check-in luggage, and even inside the USA, how many people would be willing to risk having to throw away this tool at the security line if TSA is having a bad day?
The second problem with this is that we imagine there is a strong overlap between the one-bag travel community and the folks in the market for a James Brand x Carryology traveler-focused EDC kit - so if you’re one-bagging it, you don’t even have check in luggage, thus bringing the entire raison d’etre for this collection.
On the other hand, if potential buyers in the market for this kit already know this up front and if they choose to purchase anyway (such as we did) then it has to be considered an informed choice. So let’s examine the scissors that replaced the knife blade.
The scissors themselves are fine - while a first for the James Brand, they’re largely similar to the the same type of tiny folding scissors often found in swiss army knives or other types of pocket tools. They’re nicely machines, relatively sharp and have a nice little “JAMES” logo etched in one side. The spring is just okay, but also sticks out there in a very weird, pokey fashion. We wish for the price that TJB could have come up with a more refined solution.
The scissors cut well enough for their size, but (and this is going to be a theme repeated throughout this post) if you’re planning on using them more than maybe once in a while you will be far better served with a better pair of scissors - we would not want to be cutting much of anything for very long with these. And you can definitely forget about cutting anything thicker than a sheet or two of paper - it wouldn’t feel very pleasant and we’d worry about breaking the relatively slight build of the scissors.
At least the scissors lock into place…?
The second tool in the Ellis is a locking straight-blade screw driver with a built in bottle cap. It’s straightforward and functional, and the locking mechanism is useful when one really needs to apply some serious torque.
The third “tool” supposedly available in the Ellis is what James Brand refers to as their “All Things” (r) scraper and pry bar. Fun fact: it is useless as both a scraper and as a pry bar. The issue with this tool is that it is far too short, far too thick and far too rounded to be useful for prying or scraping almost anything. Given that pry bars/scrapers are some of the most common (and easiest) EDC or keychain-type tools to make it’s mystifying3 how James Brand screwed this up so badly, especially on a tool this expensive.
A non-exhaustive list of things we were unable to do with this tool:
- Scrape some packing tape that was stuck to the floor (too rounded and too dull)
- Pry out a nail that was slightly sticking out from a board (too round, too fat, too short)
- Slice open the tape on a package that had arrived at the house (too round, too fat, too dull)4
- Pry open the plastic casing of a small aquarium pump that needed to be opened to clean out some junk that was stuck inside (too round, too short, too dull)
- Scrape some glue that had dried on a desk surface (too round, too dull - it sort of worked, but it was leaving big dents on the wooden surface as well due to the steep angle required by the short stubby shape and amount of pressure required by the dullness - a sharper, flatter tool would have made short work of it without damaging the desk)
We really dislike this tool and feel James Brand is being disingenuous in even claiming this is a third tool for the Ellis as opposed to a design element. The fact that they have the gall to place a (r) next to “All Things” is particularly annoying - it should be called “No Things” given how useless it is.5
The Stillwell Pen
The second tool in the collection is a customised version of the Stillwell pen that normally retails for $85.00 USD on the James Brand site. Made of titanium the Stillwell is a small travel pen that changes from around 90mm in its closed state to 137mm in its extended state when opened for writing.
The Stillwell is probably our favourite tool in the collection due to its simple straightforward purpose and construction, relatively high usability and the fact that it addresses a travel need that we’ve often struggled with - having a small pen that is robust enough to handle the rigors of travel, small enough to be unobtrustive and easily carried, whilst being large enough to be functional, especially when trying to fill out customs documents on small bumpy tray tables or the sides of rocking boats and yet still have small bit of distinctive desing to them.
The pen is manufactured in titanium and is divided into two halves - a “pen” half in the Carryology orange colourway and a “barrel” half in dark grey with the logos of Carryology x James Brand lined up vertically towards the top. The entire pen portion fits inside of the larger cap portion save a small metal loop that extends at the end. When inserted, the pen is held tightly together with three small rubber o-rings and will definitely not come loose unless purposefully removed. So far the rubber rings have held up well, but given the nature of the material we wonder how well it will hold up over time.
When closed, the overall package is small, dense and compact and easily slips into a pocket for everyday carry. The portion of the pen that extends out when closed has a small open loop and comes attached with a small slightly-stiff bit of cord with some heat shrunk tubing over the end.
When it comes time to write, one pulls the pen portion out of the barrel (the small cord and heat shrunk tubing help with pulling against the considerable resistance of the o-rings) and can either write with it as is (small, but functional given the girth) or else insert the tail-end of the pen into the “cap” portion of the barrel (here again, the stiffness of the small cord and heat shrunk tubing helps) to end up with a relatively well-balanced full-length pen.
Speaking of the writing, the insert in the pen is a standard D1-style refill - it comes with a serviceable but unremarkable standard one, which we immediately swapped out for a fine-point 0.4mm Zebra black gel ink refill, a change which dramatically improved the pleasure of the writing experience in our experience.6 Refilling the pen is accomplished by unscrewing the machined cap (the section containing the rubber o-rings) on the pen portion of the barrel to reveal the internal refill.
Overall we’re quite positive on the Stillwell and feel it’s the best tool out of the entire collection. We like the way the pen expands in size in a simple and straightforward way and think it does a good job of balancing the need for a full-sized pen when writing with the need for a small package when traveling/EDC carrying a pen. The design and colours look good to our eye and we enjoyed the smaller details such as the subtle chamfering around the pen loop, and the slight stiffness of the cord + tubing that helps with insertion into the barrel.
One the other hand, while not strictly a shortcoming, we did find ourselves wishing there were at least an option for a clip on this pen - we understand why this was left out given the design, but this means there is no way to carry this pen in any kind of open-bottom pen loop or else inside of something like a Bellroy Field notes cover or Notebook Cover. Additionally, our pen came out of the box with some noticeable discolouration / staining on the orange portion of the pen barrel, and some of the colour had actually chipped off to reveal the metallic colour underneath around the loop hole at the end of the pen - this despite our not using it very hard to date. Disappointing to see at this price point ($85.00 is a lot of money to pay for a non-fountain pen in our opinion).
The Cache River Bit Driver
The final tool in the set is the Cache River Bit Driver. Unlike the Stillwell and the Ellis, this tool is unique for this set and not (currently) available separately on the James Brand site. The Cache River is a combination screw/bit tool driver and portable “cache” for storing emergency cash, etc. Similar to the Stillwell, the main body is made of a dark grey titanium and the top portion of the tool features the Carryology orange accent colour. Whilst subjective, we think it looks good at least - we like the colourways and a small rotating portion at the top (described subsequently) provides for good “fidgetability” in the hand.
Also similar to the Stillwell, the tool divides into two “halves” though in this case the two halves screw together as opposed to press-fit. The joint features a small rubber o-ring that makes the inside essentially water proof. The size of the two “halves” is uneven - the larger, “bottom” half features the James Brand x Carryology logos, a dimpling pattern (ostensibly for grip) over half of the external surface and houses a magnetic hex bit receptacle that can take standard hexbit tools at its end. The top “half” is comprised of two portions joined together with a rotating joint - the bottom portion is plain dark grey titanium and the upper portion features the a machined chamfered key/lanyard loop in the Carrylogy orange colourway.
Unscrewing the tool reveals two included hex bit tools - a Wiha Phillips #2 screwdriver bit & Wiha Torx T6 bit. As the tool can take any standard hex bit, it’s possible to swap these out for whatever combination one might desire. Even with these two bits inserted, it is still possible to include something thin and small - such as a rolled up money bill for emergencies (the suggested use case by Carrylogy and James Brand). When closed, the tools do rattle slightly inside, though again, rolling up a paper bill around them inside of the case will lessen this rattle.
When “deploying” the tool, the user is meant to unscrew the two halves, remove a bit from the inside, insert it into the external bit receptacle (where it is held magnetically) and then re-screw together the two halves. Then, using the entire body as a handle, one can ostensibly use the tool as a screw/torx/etc. driver. As previously mentioned, a portion of the upper tool rotates, and when the tool is held in the hand, this portion can be held affixed in position by the palm and the ring/pinky fingers whilst the thumb and other two fingers rotate the front 2/3rds of the tool to screw/unscrew the target, using the dimpling on the front of the tool for purchase.
So, this sounds great in theory, but unfortunately in reality things quickly fall apart. In use, it immediately becomes apparent that it’s extremely difficult to get any type of purchase or torque with such a slight tool when driving anything other than perfectly oiled and fitted screws. The small dimpling on the front of the tool - whilst looking good - is insufficient for holding a grip when trying to apply torque to the tool (and it quickly becomes apparent why most screw drivers are either coated in rubber or made of plastic with deep grooves/channels). More dammingly, the “rotating” portion of the tool - which in theory might improve functionality as mentioned above - turns out to be actively harmful. Since it rotates, it effectively means that one cannot apply torque to a full 1/3rd of the tool - instead of being able to wrap ones entire palm around the whole tool to really bear down, instead one is limited to using the front 2/3rds of an already small tool via the thumb and first two fingers.
In practice, this means the tool is quite limited in its capabilities - we tried using it around the house to do things as simple as help assemble a small Ikea table or unscrew some shelves and due to the issues above it proved quite useless. Beyond constantly camming out or simply being unable to accomplish the job, the tool also induced a serious case of hand cramps. In all cases we quickly gave up and just ended up going with a simple dollar store screwdriver that accomplished the task in a few seconds and without any problems.
The other main functionality of the tool - as a storage cache - works well enough we suppose, though in reality we have a hard time imaging brining this along simply to carry some emergency cash on us. There are far better ways to reliably carry emergency cash (and probably more of it) than the Bit River Cache and the idea that one would not have access to that cash - but still have access to the Bit River Cache seems… a bit far fetched to us. One could ostensibly remove the bits and store things such as an emergency match or two, or possibly a few small medicine tablets, we suppose?
Overall, while we think the design is smart and sleek, we were quite disappointed with the functionality in practice - much like the Ellis pocket tool, we think the Cache River is an idea that sounds better in theory than in actual execution.
When looking at the James Brand x Carryology Rover Capsule collection, the rather steep $275 USD (+shipping) price has to be taken into consideration. There are two ways to look at this - the first being, how much would it cost to purchase these items separately?
From this perspective, a normal Ellis pocketknife retails for $99 USD, a normal Stillwell retails for $85 USD and a Skinth P3 retails for $30 USD. With the price of the Rover Capsule coming in at $275 USD, this means the Cache River Bit Driver costs “only” $61 USD which we think most people would consider a fair price for a unique and well-built (albiet of so-so actual functionality) tool, especially one that is not available outside of this collection. Additionally, there is some certain amount of premium presuably attributable to the limited-edition nature of this collaboration so from this perspective, and assuming one is in the market for this precise set of tools, this is actually relatively fairly priced.
The other perspective however, is one that starts with the idea that The James Brand is overpriced from start, at least in terms of a functionality-to-price (or “bang for your buck”) point of view. A few different reviewers on the internet have referred to TJB as “hipster EDC” and a brand that makes things “you’d love to receive as a gift but would never buy for yourself.” While we did buy this for ourselves with our own money, it is easy to see where this sentiment is coming from. And while a lot of this perspective comes from more serious knife-enthusiasts, as our own experience proves, there is a strong and painful gap in actual functionality in at least two out of the three tools in this set, and in each case they were handily outperformed by simple alternative that cost a mere fraction of the price. And from this perspective, the $275 USD price point is completely overpriced.
For us, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. When making this purchase, we placed a heavy premium on the design and appearance, and to a certain extent the material choice and were willing to pay a certain amount for this. We bought this more to belong to our collection and honestly, to look good in our domestic EDC rathe than to traipse the world with this in our carry-on and with the expection to get heavy, serious use out of the tools. But even from this very biased perspective, we were still a bit disappointed to see just how useless a few of the tools were in actual practice and its hard not to feel that it’s somewhat expensively priced (if not necessarily over-priced) for what it is.
Thus, for us, while we don’t outright regret the purchase, we do feel it is still rather expensively priced for what it is. Our advice is that if you enjoy the design, look and feel and are purchasing more as a collectible then the premium is probably worth it. On the other hand, if you’re considering this as a serious travel tool or for actual EDC functionality, then one is likely to be disappointed with what you get for the price point.
So in conclusion, the James Brand x Carryology Rover Capsule Collection is relatively stylish, relatively well-designed collection of tools that look pretty good, are made of relatively interesting materials but definitely do a better job of looking good in a collection or on a shelf than actually being functional in real EDC situations. There’s also significant concerns about the actual core “travelability/carry-on-ability” of the Ellis tool in particular.
Nonetheless, for serious carry fans (or Carryology fans) looking to add something stylish to their collection, or for people who are willing (and able) to pay the premium for the design, or perhaps for someone looking for the perfect gift for such people, this could be a good, albeit expensive, purchase.
- Design: ★★★★☆
- Build + Materials: ★★★★☆
- Functionality: ★☆☆☆☆
- Organisation: ★★☆☆☆
- Value: ★☆☆☆☆
- Overall: ★★★★☆ (2.5/5 stars)
Especially since Skinth offers multiple other colours, including a matching grey colourway. ↩
There’s even a disclaimer to this effect on the product page: “The James Brand can’t protect against confiscation of tools by TSA. These tools were manufactured in accordance with TSA policies (we even talked to them on the phone!), but it’s ultimately the sole discretion of the TSA agent at the time of confiscation.” ↩
It’s actually not that mystifying - it’s a clear example of a purposeful decision to trade off function in favor of design - the rounded, short polished shape of the pry bar looks and carries much nicer within the profile of the Ellis than a sharper, more elongated piece would be. Unfortunately, that makes it far more useless as well. ↩
We tried using the scissors as well and while that sort of worked, a knife would have been far easier and far less painful (the scissors kept gumming up and the arm pinched our fingers unpleasantly due to the small size). ↩
In all cases after giving up on the useless Ellis, we quickly accomplished the task using our keychain-mounted EverRatchet EDC tool which is not only much cheaper, but also can carry a flint and steel or Philipps Head screwdriver and is safely carry-on-able. ↩
There is a trade off - gel ink, especially in finer diamters tends to be a little fussier/skippier than ballpoint or rollerball type pen tips, but we write very very small so this trade off was worth it, and it works fine with our beloved field notes - we’re currently rocking the National Parks Series. ↩
April 30, 2020
Chasing blue skies with the Olympus OMD-EM1X and M.12-100 f/4.0 Pro…
April 17, 2020
Remembering those blue azure Parisian summer skies…
We were young, poor college students at the time, but we still ate some of our best meals and shared some of our happiest memories in our tiny kitchen looking out over this courtyard and those blue, blue skies over the city beyond…
We long for the day when we (and the world) will be able to travel again…
April 14, 2020
Flying over Mount Fuji enroute to Fukuoka for a last-minute mileage-run late last year…
To tell the truth, we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Sony RX100 series.
While we do love the super zoom range, tiny pocketable size, pop-up viewfinder and ability to shoot RAWs, we find that the image quality (especially the dynamic range) it can capture is highly variable, particularly for many kinds of landscape work. For some reason, many of the skies we capture with it turn out to be extremely flat and “meh” - and believe us, we’ve tried in a variety of situations and timing.
In general we’re still big fans of Sony’s 1-inch sensors1) but it’s frustrating to be so-close and yet (at times) so-far when it comes to the perfect tiny compact professional camera (and the dream of all long-distance hiking photographers2 such as ourselves who long to give up the weight of a larger solution whist retaining the image quality).
The other challenge the RX100 series faces is that it’s a pure play camera, as opposed to something like an iPhone, which despite the much smaller sensor benefits tremendously from the built-in software to often yield far-superior results straight out of camera, especially when it comes to scenes with high dynamic range such as the aforementioned-skies. ↩
And with arguably better results (although we post-processed both stylistically in a way that reduces some of the differences in the actual source files) ↩
We fully admit the RX0 was a mistake… ↩